Dangerous mental health patients could not leave state hospitals for
field trips or most other excursions without specific court orders,
under a bill the Legislature is considering.
The bill, prompted by
Phillip Paul’s escape from last fall’s “field trip” to the Spokane
County Fair by Eastern State Hospital patients, got strong support
Monday from legislators and a representative of the mental health
community during a hearing in the House Human Services Committee.
“This was a very traumatic event for Spokane County,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, sponsor of HB 2717.
Paul, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1991
slaying of an elderly Sunnyside, Wash., woman, was among 31 Eastern
State patients on a supervised field trip to the fair Sept. 17 when he
walked away from the group unnoticed and left the fairgrounds.
Supervisors didn’t report the escape for two hours; Paul was caught
three days later near Goldendale after a massive manhunt.
“This should have never happened and we can never let it happen again,” Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, said.
the bill, a patient found not guilty by reason of insanity could get a
temporary supervised release for needed medical treatment, to visit the
sick bed of a seriously ill relative or attend a relative’s funeral. An
amendment approved by the committee would allow court could authorize a
temporary supervised release for other reasons. Local law enforcement
agencies would have to be notified of any release.
David Lord of
Disability Rights Washington said the amendment for a court approval of
other supervised trips was an improvement on the original bill, which
he said was too restrictive.
If you cut from here down, story is 10
inches…Camden Paul’s escape was also mentioned in a separate hearing on
a proposal to allow juries to find a criminal defendant guilty and
mentally ill. That verdict would be added to the current options of
guilty, not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, is supported by law enforcement and the
state Department of Corrections, which already houses about 4,000
mentally ill inmates, about a fourth of the total population, Secretary
Eldon Vail said.
Other supporters said the bill was a way to hold
people accountable for crimes they commit while insuring that they get
mental health treatment while they serve a sentence.
But it was
criticized as an attempt to criminalize mental illness by Eleanor Owen
of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Paul “simply outwitted
negligent or incompetent staff,” she said. A better solution would be
to spend money on early treatment to head off violent acts by the
mentally ill, she added.
Other opponents called it a “back door attack” on the insanity defense and argued it would merely confuse jurors.